Wednesday, November 25, 2009

SB 971 testimony

Testimony to the Senate Finance Committee
SB 971 Public Service Companies – Gas and Electric Service –
Alternative Payment Agreements
Position: Favorable


March 16, 2010

The Honorable Thomas M. Middleton, Chair
3 East, Miller Senate Building
Annapolis, MD 21401
cc: Members, Senate Finance Committee

Honorable Chair Middleton and Members of the Senate Finance Committee:

The Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition (MCRC) is a statewide coalition of individuals and organizations that advances and protects the interests of consumers through education, advocacy, and training programs. MCRC works to ensure fairness and safety in the marketplace. Our members include consumer advocates, practitioners, and low-and-moderate income families throughout Maryland.

MCRC supports SB 971 because the legislation addresses a problem many are facing in today’s economic climate. The legislation expands current law – which requires utility companies to offer alternative payment plans to customers who are behind in their payments before their electricity can be shut off – to include residential customers who are not considered low income. The person could be newly unemployed or be facing health issues; the bill includes criteria for determining a hardship situation.

There is a sunset provision in the bill so that it will not go on indefinitely and hopefully will not be needed when the economic climate improves. But it is clearly needed at this time.

Respectfully submitted,

Marceline White
Executive Director, MCRC

    ____________________________________________

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SB 863 testimony

Testimony to the Senate Finance Committee
SB 863 Credit Regulation-Loans Secured by Residential Real Property-Late or Delinquency Charges and Crediting of Payments
Position: Favorable


March 17, 2010
The Honorable Thomas M. Middleton, Chair
3 East, Miller Senate Building
Annapolis, MD 21401
Cc: Members, Senate Finance Committee

Honorable Chair Middleton and Members of the Senate Finance Committee:

The Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition (MCRC) is a statewide coalition of individuals and organizations that work to ensure fairness and safety in the marketplace. Our members include consumer advocates, practitioners, and low-and-moderate income families throughout Maryland.

MCRC strongly supports SB 863 which ensures that Maryland home-owners would be appropriately credited for mortgage payments that they make. While foreclosures have slowed slightly in Maryland, far too many home-owners are still struggling to maintain their homes. A March 11 report by Real Estate Information Systems (RIS Media) ranked Maryland in the top 10 list of states with the highest foreclosure activity in February 2010. In February 2010, one in every 407 housing units received a foreclosure filing, or 5, 732 filings last month alone.

The General Assembly and the Governor’s office have adopted several measures and promulgated new regulations to stem the tide of foreclosures in Maryland. SB 863 represents another important policy towards assisting Marylanders who are able to do so to retain their homes. Currently, when struggling home-owners make a partial payment on their mortgages, banks may credit the partial payment in an towards interest and penalties so that it never reduces the principal; hold it in a separate account until the rest of the payment arrives; or, unbelievably, refuse to accept it and return it to the home-owner.

SB 863 reverses this policy and replaces it with a common-sense one: rather than helping a consumer to tread water on their mortgage, SB 863 allows a consumer to get ahead by paying down their principal. This bill will assist struggling home-owners who are doing their best to continue to pay their mortgage in these hard economic times.

MCRC strongly supports SB 863 and urges the committee to issue a favorable report.

Respectfully submitted,

Marceline White
Executive Director, MCRC

    ____________________________________________

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HB 1150 testimony

Testimony to the Economic Matters Committee
HB 1150 Consumer Protection – Damages for Violations of the Maryland Consumer Protection Act
Position: Favorable


March 11, 2010
The Honorable Dereck E. Davis, Chair
House Economic Matters Committee
House Office Building, Room 231
Annapolis, MD 21401
cc: Members, Economic Matters Committee

Honorable Chair Davis and Members of the Economic Matters Committee:

The Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition (MCRC) is a statewide coalition of individuals and organizations that advances and protects the interests of consumers through education, advocacy, and training programs. MCRC works to ensure fairness and safety in the marketplace. Our members include consumer advocates, practitioners, and low-and-moderate income families throughout Maryland.

The purpose of Maryland’s Consumer Protection Act (CPA) is to protect consumers from individuals or firms engaged in unfair or deceptive practices. There are numerous examples of unfair and deceptive practices that have been raised this session from sub-prime loans; to foreclosure and loan modification scams; to payday lenders; to Refund Anticipation Loans; to debt settlement.

In many respects, Maryland’s CPA is a strong, effective statute. Maryland’s CPA has a clear scope with broad prohibitions for unfair and deceptive acts and appropriate rule-making authority for the state. Moreover, the statute allows public enforcement without onerous preconditions for consumers to meet. Current law also provides equitable relief and restitution for consumers.

However, the CPA falls short in terms of the civil penalties and statutory damages it provides. A substantial civil penalty deters repeat violations. A business that uses unfair or deceptive practices to take consumers’ money is likely to continue to do so unless a civil penalty is applied in addition to restitution. According to a 2009 report by the National Consumer Law Center, 36 states had stronger civil penalties in their CPA statutes than Maryland.

The same report notes that twenty-five states and the District of Columbia authorize double or treble damages for consumers. Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey statutes authorize enhanced damages. In the region, Delaware is the only other state that does not have double or treble damages.

In addition to deterring repeat violations of the CPA, HB 1150 will also provide an incentive for private attorneys to take on more consumer cases. Consequently, more consumers will have access to justice and restitution within the state and the Attorney General’s Office will be able to devote its resources to other critical consumer issues as more attorneys take on these cases.

MCRC urges the Committee to issue a favorable report on HB 1150 to enhance consumer protections throughout the state.

Respectfully submitted,



Marceline White
Executive Director, MCRC

    ____________________________________________

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